As our world is changing more rapidly than ever before and many parents are looking to non-traditional schools to prepare their children for the future. Parents, Jeff and Laura Sanderfer, were so convinced of the need for a non-traditional school that inspires children to find their unique callings that they founded the first Acton Academy in Austin, TX in 2009. Nine years later, Acton has grown into a worldwide community of over 1,000 learners in more than ninety locations across eight countries, and it’s growing every week. A new Acton Academy, serving children starting at ages 4, is now open in the Seattle area. The non-traditional approach followed by Acton delivers far more than an education. It delivers lifelong learners equipped with a growth mindset that leads them to know who they are and the unique calling for their life.
In this Ted Talk, acton founder, Jeff Sandefer, shares his thoughts about the need for non-traditional schools.
What Makes Acton Academy Schools Non-traditional?
When you step into an Acton learning enviroment you may wonder if you’ve stepped into a mythical world where students are heroes, learning is a quest and adults are guides for the journey. Here are a few of the non-traditional ideas you will encounter at an Acton school.
The Hero’s Journey:
The hero’s journey revolves around encouraging each learner to view life as a journey leading them to discover their unique calling. Along this journey they find their strengths and gifts through trial and error, successes and failures. At times, the journey will bring frustration for the learner as they struggle to move forward. Rather than rescue a child from these struggles, Acton’s non-traditional approach uses these times as opportunities for learners to build strength and character. Both of which will be necessary to continue the journey and find their calling. A calling that will change the world.
Guides Replace Teachers:
Rather than teaching educational content directly to students which they are expected to retain and restate on their next exam, Acton Academies use guides to encourage learners by offering insightful questions and facilitating hands on learning. Guides use the Socratic method, always responding to questions with new questions. This exchange hones learners’ critical thinking skills while encouraging curiosity. As learners grow, guides gradually withdraw giving learners greater autonomy over their environment.
Another non-traditional approach you will find in Acton Academies is the learner-driven environment. This means young people take ownership of their education and peer relationships. Relying heavily on game-based digital learning tools, students are encouraged to find learning wherever they can: on the internet, from each other or even by picking up the phone to call an expert. This self-paced and self-directed learning environment is designed to foster responsibility, goal-setting, and teamwork. Young people are empowered to thrive in a world that needs independent, motivated thinkers and learners.
Whether it’s launching a startup business, creating a tide-pool habitat, playing a musical instrument, painting a mosaic, or programming a robot, learners are building real-life skills in the classroom every day. These real-life skills are then taken out into the real world through apprenticeship programs. Near the end of elementary school, learners obtain summer internships in a field they are passionate about. Learners will intern with doctors, entrepreneur bakers, plumbers, attorneys and graphic designers.
Different than traditional schools, Acton class sizes are intentionally small and combine different age groups. The multi-age classes support learning while building community. Older learners are encouraged to mentor younger learners building leadership skills and compassion for others. This non-traditional approach actually goes back to the much older tradition of one room schoolhouses.
Probably the most non-traditional element of Acton Academy schools is their elimination of report cards and grades. Acton Academies track progress through portfolios, learning exhibitions, peer reviews, goal monitoring, online dashboards, learning badges, and a once-a-year standardized test.
While Acton does not believe standardized assessments are important to their curriculum, they do administer standardized tests at the beginning and end of the year to measure baseline data. Acton learners have been advancing far faster than they did in traditional schools (averaging as much as three grade levels gained each year), despite the fact that many come into Acton with poor standardized test scores.
For more on how Acton tracks progress, see “How do I know if my child is growing morally and intellectually?” by Acton Founder, Laura Sandefer.
Creator’s House, an Acton Academy, is open in the Seattle area. The school will be led by a team of entrepreneurs and parents in Bellevue, WA who believe there is a need for a non-traditional, learner-led school that prepares children for their unique callings in this world. It is a separate entity working in deep collaboration with the Acton Academy in Austin. The purpose of this differentiation is to be able to adapt and serve the needs of our parents, learners, and the rest of the community here in the greater Seattle area.
If you are interested in learning more about Creator’s House, an Acton Academy in the Seattle area, please contact us.